The Ancient Modern
Pleasure in Personhood / Joshua Alan Sturgill
We seem to have reached a point when the “highest” experiences our culture can recognize are pleasure and emotion. We even mistake intensity of pleasure and emotion as signs of a “spiritual life.”
How can we again become accustomed to peace and stability, and learn to recognize the arts and experiences that bring us inner calm?
Yoga, meditation, fasting, etc., were part of the ancient world’s engagement with the Unseen. But today, these are popular entertainments. We use meditation to recover from the trauma of superficiality, so that we can go back and survive more superficiality. Yoga is a way to “stay in shape”—a shape belonging strictly to the world of appearances. Fasting is one among many methods of “detox.”
These and other disciplines were once ways of deepening personhood and increasing our interconnectedness with each other. Yoga means union—with the divine—not an increase in flexibility. Fasting should release us from dependence on pleasure, not make us more “healthy”—by which, we often mean uninterrupted engagement with our busy schedules.
The consequences of giving pleasure and emotion pride of place in our search for fulfillment are likely too many to number, and certainly, too dire to describe in simple terms.
We have lost our capacity for making and understanding poetry. We have lost our capacity for making music—rather than merely hearing it recorded. Especially, we have lost our capacity for listening deeply, participating and being transformed through listening.
Ancient traditions, religious services, philosophies, metaphysics, communal recitations of poetry—these were the old ways that souls were developed, united to each other in community and prepared for life and death.
For us, electrified and stimulated as we are, unless the world around us is loud, enticing and emotional, we almost can’t even believe it is real.